BELL GARDENS, Calif. – Luis Zamudio made quite the first impression when he arrived at Bell Gardens Sports Center for the opening day of the LA leg of the Sueño MLS tryouts last weekend, presenting Galaxy scouts with a full résumé before heading onto the field.
Then the 16-year-old goalkeeper from Las Vegas, Nev., wowed them with a combination of physical tools, instinct and personality, making it clear from the first moments that he was a real find among a very strong pool.
Zamudio will go up against two more 'keepers at Sueño MLS's May 26-31 national finals in Bell Gardens after he was named one of six players to advance from the LA tryouts.
“He stuck out right away, from day one, because of his size and his physique, but he was very comfortable in all the training sessions,” said Chris Howe, the Galaxy's coordinator of youth development. “Martin [Zuniga, Galaxy TV analyst] kept coming back and saying we like this goalkeeper.
“He's very confident, he's very assured in himself, and you could see that in [Sunday's session-ending] game. He never looked [in trouble]. He always looked in control and very calm, and that's exactly what you need in a goalkeeper.”
Zamudio, who plays for Gallos Blancos in the Las Vegas Valley Soccer League and at Spring Valley High School, has been in the nets less than two years, but he's got the kind of size – he’s 6-foot-4 – and quickness to become special, and his skills are only going to improve with elite training.
Howe doubles as Nevada's Olympic Development Program goalkeeper coach, and he'll be working soon with Zamudio no matter what happens in the Portero Allstate battles later this month.
“He's legit,” Galaxy staff coach Paul Soufl said. “That guy's going to be a player.”
Zuniga, a former Mexican national-teamer who played for Chivas USA, loved what he saw.
“With this guy, we noticed great skills, good technique with his feet, and a lot of communication, which is hard to find in young guys,” said Zuniga, who, as an Allstate ambassador, works with all the Sueño MLS goalkeepers. “Usually, younger guys are shy, because they're part of a new team with guys who have never played together, but this guy after a few moments showed us personality and a great command to the team.”
Zamudio has a mostly upbeat personality. He's warm and engaging, bright and talkative, the kind of presence that makes a big difference in the locker room.
He was asked what he thought he had shown the scouts.
“I impressed with the way I communicate, because everyone likes how I communicate,” he said. “Especially in Vegas. Everyone is like, 'Hey, goalie, be quiet,' but I like talking. ... I yell on the field, but I want to still be friends after the game.”
LA Galaxy II forward Travis Bowen, who served as a scout/coach for the tryouts, said he was “very impressed” by Zamudio's résumé, “and the kid can go a long way if he keeps that mature mentality.”
“I want to say he's like a grandpa in the goal,” Bowen added. “When you talk to him, when you shake his hand, when you stand up next to him, the kid doesn't seem like [a kid]. I would think he's 20 years old, and that goes a long way.”
Zamudio, who was born in Los Angeles and lived in Mexico until he was 5, had played in goal when he was younger, but moved to midfield at an early age. About a year and a half ago, his father, also named Luis, noticed how quickly his son was sprouting and suggested a change.
“My dad told me, 'You're a good player, but you have more future in goal,' ” said Zamudio.
He wasn’t so sure about the position switch at first, but changed his tune after starting work with goalkeeper coach Abraham Barajas, who taught him how to move, prepare for shots, how to land when he leaps for the ball – all the basics.
“Thanks to him, I like the goal again,” Zamudio said “And thanks to him, I'm here. If it wasn't for him, who knows where I would be.”
Zamudio models his game on that of Bayern Munich's Manuel Neuer, somewhat of a “sweeper-keeper,” and also watches Chelsea's Thibault Courtois closely. He says they inspire him, and he hopes one day to be in a position where he can inspire others.
“Goalkeepers are remembered for a lot of stuff, but mostly for the mistakes,” Zamudio said. “But when you do a game-winning save, it feels amazing. When you're done, you get, 'Oh, good job, 'keep, you saved us in the game.' Or like in the 90th minute, you come on and get the ball on a corner kick. It's the best feeling ever.”